Pumpkin and the Dog’s Bollocks

Suppose there’s a planet called Dog’s Bollocks and the aliens on Dog’s Bollocks have been using something called pumpkin for all their energy needs. But pumpkin has several problems. One: it’s running out. There’s a limited supply of it and eventually there’ll be none left. Two: it produces pollution which when inhaled can cause asthma in young aliens and reduces the lifespan of all aliens. Three: Continued use of it is increasing the temperature of Dog’s Bollocks. As the temperature increases they need to use more of it to maintain a comfortable temperature which only increases the temperature even more in a self-reinforcing cycle. Four: It’s unpleasant to smell.

Some of the aliens on Dog’s Bollocks think it’s a good idea to find an alternative to pumpkin and they have made a number of suggestions for a solution like investing in R&D to find alternatives, offering incentives for investment in alternatives, subsidising alternatives, disincentivizing pumpkin by adding taxes and other policies designed to discourage use, exploring options to reduce the demand for pumpkin, and even addressing some of the problems directly like capturing the bad smells and locking them away.

Most of the aliens on Dog’s Bollocks agree that some kind of combination of solutions is required. However there’s a very small and vocal community who vociferously object. They don’t want anyone to stop using pumpkin or to find alternatives. They say Dog’s Bollocks has been using pumpkin for hundreds of years and has become wealthy as a direct result and therefore they should continue using it for as long as possible. They object to all suggestions for research and investment in alternative options. They sound pretty irrational, don’t they? Irrational is exactly what I was thinking when I saw the Australian treasurer, Scott Morrison, worshipping a lump of coal in parliament last week.

Australia was already hot – that’s why I choose not to live there – but each year it gets hotter and hotter. You would think the people in charge would want to do something about that but their very unimaginative solution is to burn more coal which will only exacerbate the problem. To be fair, it must be frightening for people whose livelihoods depend on coal – they will be afraid of losing their jobs and we should have compassion for those people and help them to find alternative employment. But this is only an argument in favour of diversification. It’s not an argument to do nothing. If you find yourself working for a pharmaceutical company whose only product turns out to be carcinogenic that would be unlucky. But employment is not a valid reason to keep the product on the market. The pharmaceutical company should have diversified. Likewise, Australia should have started investing in alternative energy sources decades ago. But it’s not too late – they now need to invest heavily in alternatives, provide large subsidies for alternatives, put a tax on fossil fuels, remove all subsidies for fossil fuels, offer incentives for lifestyle changes like reducing car use and meat consumption, and lots more. They need to do as much as they possibly can because there’s no one solution to this problem. But sitting around and pretending it’s not a problem is not a good solution.